With PayPub, perhaps whistleblowers will be a little less reluctant to expose government and corporate abuse.

Hesitant whistleblowers sometimes face an difficult decision: expose corruption and risk persecution, or turn a blind eye to abuses and continue a comfortable life. PayPub is an early-stage prototype that would give hesitant leakers an extra incentive to select the former option. That incentive is bitcoin.

Developers Amir Taaki and Peter Todd told WIRED they are working on a leaking marketplace. Regardless of your stance on whistleblowing, it is an interesting proposition. The plan to implement this in a decentralized manner. Taaki said:

“I’ve wanted for a while to make a marketplace where people can leak information and others can pay for those leaks. Leakers are taking a risk, and they should be rewarded.”


[dropcap size=big]P[/dropcap]ayPub is not a publishing platform in the vein of WikiLeaks. It is an upcoming app that would function as a sort of a marketplace for leaks–according to Andy Greenberg it is a “bitcoin Kickstarter for leakers.” Whistleblowers would post snippets or summaries of the proposed leaks. Shoppers would decide to support it based on these little previews.

But the tool could also be utilized in mundane spaces. Todd suggested a software market, where programmers can use the same mechanism to sell their tools.

How It Works

The project GitHub describes the process. The leak file is split into a hundred pieces. Each is encrypted and random pieces are shown to potential buyers. The brief explanation reads, “People can now vet the released chunks, pass their own judgement and decide whether to start bidding on the remaining chunks to unlock them.”

PayPub is an early prototype, so the details are thin and the command-line interface is definitively un-user-friendly. The developers expect more convenient versions of the prototype will sprout up over time.

PayPub’s Roots

Co-creators Amir Taaki and Peter Todd both also work on Dark Wallet, a Bitcoin anonymity tool. Taaki is founder of unSystem, a curious anarchic-leaning site that nurtures DarkMarket and Libbitcoin. The former unSystem website read:

“We are building a separate world, connecting projects and resources across continents and outside the tainted spheres of “legitimacy.”

One of the featured links on a new website leads a Wiki page describes how an “opensource city” and Bitcoin law would function.

PayPub’s emphasis on monetize leaks doesn’t disappoint these subversive roots. But it looks like anonymity won’t be built in. Users need to channel the through Tor or anonymity software to ensure leaking confidentiality.

The Implications

There is no question the leaking tool could be put to sinister use. Perhaps some leakers will be more motivated by prospective profits offered by competing firms or foreign governments. This species of leaks wouldn’t necessarily align with the developers’ goals to advance the public good.

But Taaki argued:

“Only the powerful have something to fear from information freedom. You can always say there are good and bad secrets, but the reality is that there is information that people want and need to be public…However we can give incentives to people to liberate information in general is a positive thing.”

Perhaps the next round of whistleblowers will have an additional incentive to expose global fraud and abuse.

Photo courtesy of United States Office of Special Counsel / Wikimedia.